Photograph by Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images.
No, it’s not the plot of a new sci-fi movie. Astronomers have really discovered a black hole weighing as much as 21 billion suns—more than triple the size of any other black hole ever found.
The New York Times reports that the discovery of the massive black hole, along with several other similarly giant ones, in galaxies some 330 million light-years from earth could help astronomers understand how galaxies are formed.
Previous research has shown that bigger galaxies tend to produce bigger black holes, which are regions of space where gravity is so intense that no matter can escape. Still, much remains unknown about the way galaxies and black holes evolve, particularly in larger galaxies.
Led by researchers at University of California–Berkeley, astronomers in Hawaii and Texas used telescopes to measure the velocity of stars in far-away galaxies, revealing the amount of gravitational pull exerted on the stars by nearby black holes, according to Space.com, which likely knows a little more about astrophysics that we do.*
U.C.–Berkley’s Dr. Chung-Pei Ma told the Times that the enormity of the newly discovered black holes is likely attributable to the holes either merging with other black holes or swallowing nearby gases. The biggest of the big black holes, “an egg-shaped swirl of stars known as NGC 4889,” is located in the Coma constellation, while the other, “a graveyard for the equivalent of 9.7 billion Suns,” was found in the Leo constellation, according to the paper.
*Correction Dec. 6, 2011: This article originally misspelled Berkeley.